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OHA’s 2020 Virtual Meeting: What to Expect

Thank you for your patience as the Program Committee, Local Arrangements Committee, Executive Office, and myself have worked tirelessly to develop the Oral History Association’s first virtual conference.  For a normal annual meeting, planning for the conference starts a year and a half before the actual gathering.   The first vice president forms the Program and Local Arrangements Committees, the program co-chairs draft the CFP and invite major speakers, and the Local Arrangements Committee strategizes ways the conference can effectively engage with the local community.  Normally, we would have let people know whether their proposals were accepted in April, scheduled the sessions in May, opened up registration in June, and sent out the full program in August. But as you know, this year has been anything but normal.

As things shut down in March, no one was certain what the impact would be on the conference, but we scrambled to make contingency plans, researched best practices for hybrid and virtual conferences, surveyed our members, and developed a plan and a budget for a virtual conference.  The Executive Office negotiated with the conference hotel and reached an agreement in late June to reschedule our conference there in 2023.  It was not until we were able to ensure that we would not take a devastating financial hit that we were able to fully commit to an all-virtual conference.  The OHA Council approved a budget for the virtual conference in late June, and from that point we started implementing our plans for our upcoming virtual conference with breakneck speed.

I believe we will have a very creative and robust virtual annual meeting that will enable us to continue to move the field forward and also develop the professional networks that are essential for sustaining our field.  We have reason to believe that we may have the largest number of people participating in our Annual Meeting than ever before.  While we usually have approximately 90 sessions at our conferences, this year we will have approximately 125 sessions.  Additionally, we will have over a dozen workshops and nearly a half-dozen free virtual tours for conference attendees.  Smithsonian Visionary Artist and MacArthur Fellow Joyce Scott will deliver the keynote address. Award winning radio producer Marc Steiner will conduct a live on-air interview with critically acclaimed author D. Watkins for our first plenary.  The second plenary features Toni Tipton Martin, an award-winning food and nutrition journalist who explores the relationship between cultural heritage, cooking, and social change.  The plenary sessions and keynote address will be live streamed from the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore and made publicly available.



From the earliest stages of planning the conference, we sought to ensure that we left Baltimore’s oral history practitioners in a better position as a result of our conference.  By the March shutdown, the Local Arrangements Committee had made significant progress organizing a large Oral History Block Party outside the Reginald F. Lewis Museum that would focus on the conference theme: The Quest for Democracy.  Sadly, that will not be able to happen.  But the committee has still worked hard to cultivate a local sensibility for the conference. The Reginald F. Lewis Museum has opened its doors to us to professionally film and livestream the plenaries and keynote address.  The Maryland Historical Society partnered with us to organize two oral history workshops for those who live, work, or go to school in the Baltimore region and Maryland.  Baltimore Heritage coordinated the development of five virtual tours of Baltimore that will be free of charge for all those registered for the conference. These tours will be accessed through our digital program platform Attendify.  As part of the Diversity Reception, we will hold a virtual dance party featuring Baltimore-based DJ James Nasty, who will highlight the importance and history of Baltimore House music. Pixstori is coordinating a series of local stories that will be featured in our digital program. Red Emma’s, a local worker-owned bookstore and café, will have a “shop” on Second Life, featuring books about Baltimore.  And the committee is organizing a series of virtual “dine-arounds,” informal get togethers that replicate a popular feature of past annual meetings. Perhaps most importantly, the Local Arrangements Committee is organizing a post-conference gathering that will explore the development of a collaborative of Baltimore-based oral history practitioners that can continue well after the meeting.  Together, we expect all these efforts will instill in our conference a sense of place even as we meet virtually.



The Program Committee has responded quickly to current events by developing sessions focusing on the COVID pandemic, virtual interviews, and Black Lives Matters protests.  They have reimagined the structure of a virtual conference by extending it two days and reducing the number of session time slots every day to three. On most days we will have ten simultaneous sessions in the late morning (Baltimore/Eastern time), a keynote or plenary address in the early afternoon, and a set of ten simultaneous sessions later in the afternoon.  Receptions will be held in the early evening located on our new Second Life Oral History Association island.



We have developed a strategy to make this the most accessible OHA conference to date.  The plenaries, keynote, and business meeting as well as several featured sessions will have live ASL translation.  All sessions (not including Zoom breakout rooms) will have an automated transcript, and we are working to develop a list of volunteers to edit those transcripts in real time.  We have provided guidance to presenters so that they can develop accessible visual presentations.  We will be asking that all presenters submit their presentations ahead of time so that they can be posted and viewed by attendees outside of Zoom.



People will navigate the conference by using Attendify, a virtual space where sessions will be organized, session materials such as PowerPoint presentations uploaded, and Zoom links posted.  After the sessions are complete, we will embed recordings and transcripts of those sessions in Attendify so that people can view them asynchronously.  Attendify offers chat features to network with other conference goers, and enables us to showcase our exhibitors, sponsors, and poster sessions.  Registered participants will be able to access the conference materials within Attendify through the summer of 2021.



For the regular sessions, OHA has acquired a package of professional Zoom licenses so that we can host and manage ten simultaneous sessions.  The expectation is that presenters will present their materials live and that there will be live engagement with the audience following the presentations.  While we discourage the use of Zoom breakout rooms since there will be no live transcription in those rooms, mini workshops may have a need to use them.  Our goal is to have two volunteers in every session, one who will serve as the room host and one who will do live edits to the automated third-party transcript. While we have asked all presenters to submit their visual slides ahead of time (to be posted on Attendify), panelists and speakers will also share their visual slides live through Zoom screen share.  Room hosts will monitor the chat for relevant questions and comments, and chairs will call on attendees to offer up questions verbally as well.  For the most part, the panels will run very similarly to how we would run our panels in a live conference format.



While we drew upon a membership survey to determine which platform would be easiest for conference attendees to use for regular sessions (Zoom), we also wanted to develop a more playful way for conference attendees to network.  We have built an Oral History Association island on Second Life where conference attendees can gather during coffee breaks, the poster session, and receptions and communicate one on one, in small or large groups.  On Wednesday, October 21, at our a virtual dance party, you will be able to have your avatar dance much better than most of us can in real life.  Second Life also offers us the opportunity to have shopfronts for our vendors and signage that can promote our sponsors and a place for live synchronous conversations with poster presenters.  The Oral History Association island will be a bustling city that looks a bit like Baltimore might if it was governed and run by oral historians.  Second Life takes a little longer to get used to than Zoom, so we will be holding tours of the island weekly prior to the conference for all registrants.  You will need your own avatar and will have to set your name to the name you use when you register for the conference.  Only those registered for the conference will have access to the main part of the OHA island.



We will produce a .pdf of our traditional print program in order to provide attendees with the documentation they may need to get reimbursed for registration expenses.  The print program will also offer us a way to document the conference long after our licenses for various platforms expire and to recognize those who have worked to organize and support the conference.



We will record all sessions unless panelists explicitly opt out, which we highly discourage. The recordings will be akin to published conference proceedings.  All attendees will be notified upon entering a session that the session is being recorded and that their participation within the session will be recorded.  These recordings will be posted daily along with the transcripts and shared through our digital program platform Attendify.  These recordings will be accessible only to those who are registered for the conference.  Conference attendees will now be able to view sessions scheduled alongside one another and will be able to watch the sessions regardless of what time zone they live in.  Pre-conference workshops will also be recorded, but those recordings will only be accessible to those registered for that workshop.

OHA will reach out to the participants in a select few sessions and seek permission to have those sessions publicly live streamed.  When granted permission, the recordings of these sessions will also be made freely available to the public. If you and all the participants in your session would like to have your panel be open access, please contact the OHA office.



We will host all our digital materials from the conference in Aviary, a cloud-based platform for publishing searchable audio and video content.  The conference collection will only be accessible to those registered for the conference except for the open access sessions mentioned above.



Pixstori will allow people to create talking pictures that they can use for personal profiles in Attendify.  The poster session presenters will also craft their own Pixstoris for their posters, and the Local Arrangements Committee is developing a Pixstori series on Baltimore.  We’re hoping conference attendees will find creative ways to use Pixstori throughout the conference to document this unique time in OHA’s history.

This year’s conference will forever be remembered for the way we came together in the midst of the crisis of the pandemic and the crisis of systematic racism.  The program is more relevant than ever as we address the relationship between Oral History and Democracy in the weeks before a pivotal Presidential election and 100 years following the passage of the 19th Amendment.  Now more than ever is the time to assess what is our role as oral historians.  Please join us for the Oral History Association’s Annual Meeting in 2020.



Dan Kerr
Vice President/President Elect, Oral History Association

P.S. We still have sponsorship opportunities and exhibitor space available. If you would like to be a sponsor or an exhibitor, please contact the OHA office at

We also need the help of an unprecedented number of volunteers, and we are especially looking to include people who would not normally attend the conference. Please help us recruit volunteers by sharing this link with them:




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2020 Annual Meeting Registration is Now Open

Online registration is now available for the 2020 Annual Meeting. You will need to use your Memberclicks account in order to register. If you don’t have an account, you will need to create one. ***Please make sure to select a type of registration on the form (i.e Member with Institutional Support, Member without Institutional Support, Student Member, Non-Member, or Non-Member Student) otherwise you will not actually be registered for the conference.

  • The program schedule is available here.
  • The descriptions of the pre-conference workshops are available here.

For more information, see our Annual Meeting Registration Page.

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The OHA’s Annual Day of Giving is August 26 – Help Secure the OHA’s Future in a Difficult Time

This year’s Annual Day of Giving will be August 26 and all donated funds will help sustain OHA’s endowment. The endowment helps pay for scholarships to the Annual Meeting; helps us stage webinars and other professional outreach and education; allows us to support other oral history organizations like the International Oral History Association. And most of all, a strong endowment ensures a strong financial future for OHA so that it can continue its support and leadership for oral history work. You can support the OHA here:

Thank you!

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OHA Membership Feedback Wanted: Strategic Plan

The OHA has been working on a strategic planning process since 2019. At the 2019 Annual Meeting Council engaged in a planning retreat, and we held focus groups and one-on-one interviews with members. Taking all of this into account, at our Mid-winter Meeting in Feb 2020 Council developed the following mission, vision, values, goals and strategies.

We then paused our work to respond to the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our original intention was to continue to refine success indicators for each goal, create a timeline for implementation, and prioritize our strategies before sharing this document with committees and membership for feedback, but the ongoing uncertainty and heavy workload created by the pandemic has led us to decide to share this document now, as is.

We feel that this draft plan still provides a powerful framework for our work, even as we have shifted to unanticipated tasks such as preparing to hold meetings online and developing remote recording guidelines. We are sharing this for feedback now, so that we will be ready to prioritize strategies as short, medium and long term and develop an implementation plan later this year.

For our members: We invite you to read and respond to this draft, and begin to ponder how you as a member might contribute to implementing it, both in this time of crisis and in the medium to long term. We also ask you to consider how this plan serves you and all the members of the Oral History Association. In our recent Statement on the killing of George Floyd and solidarity with Black Lives Matter, we discussed the need to confront institutional racism in our institutions, and this work extends to the OHA itself. Though this strategic plan is not the only place we will describe and commit to anti-oppression work within our organization, it is important for us to address it here intentionally. So we ask you for particular feedback on the ways we’ve included diversity and inclusivity, how this may be lacking, and how we can improve and expand this work.


This initial phase of feedback will be open until August 9, 2020. Council will then review and integrate feedback from the membership and OHA committees and distribute a revised draft for membership approval in September.

Strategic Plan PDF:

Give feedback here:

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Summer Workshop Series on Anti-Oppression and Oral History

The Oral History Association is proud to partner with the Columbia Oral History Master of Arts Program to present a summer workshop series on Anti-Oppression and Oral History. This series will consist of five virtual workshops: an introduction to an anti-oppression approach to oral history work, and four follow up workshops exploring project design, interviewing, and transcription from an anti-racist and decolonial perspective.

The workshops are free and open to the public- though please consider donating to cover the costs of the facilitators. Any donations that go beyond covering these costs will be used to support a Black incoming OHMA student.

For more information:

To register:


July 25, 2020, 1:00 – 4:00 PM
Identifying Patterns: How Oppression and Abuse May Show Up in Oral History
Noor Alzamami and K.K. Hammond

August 7, 2020, 3:00 – 6:00 PM
Amplifying Oral Histories of Resistance
Sara Sinclair

August 13, 2020, 1:00 – 4:00 PM
Listening for Embodied Knowledge: An Approach to the Oral History Interview
Nyssa Chow

August 22, 2020, 4:00 – 7:00 PM
Talking White: An Anti-Oppression View Towards Transcribing Black Narrators
Alissa Rae Funderburk

August 27, 2020, 1:00 – 4:00 PM
Decentering Dominance: Language Justice in the Field
Fernanda Espinosa

*All times are listed in Eastern Standard Time


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OHA Highlight: 2020 Emerging Crisis Winners- Ricia Chansky and Sierra Holt

The OHA congratulates our 2020 Emerging Crisis Research Fund Winners:

    • Ricia Chansky’s “Mi María” project is a large-scale public humanities project that uses oral history and other biographical methodologies—contextualized in critical disaster studies and environmental humanities—to study the impacts of Hurricane María on the people of Puerto Rico while working to resituate the national narrative from stories about the people to those by the people. This new phase of the project, “Sheltered in Place,” works to understand connections between the climate emergency and the public health crisis of Covid-19 in marginalized and underserved communities that are disproportionately impacted by both. A secondary objective of this project is to devise methods for creatively listening to and circulating life stories in a time of necessitated physical distancing.
    • Sierra Holt’s project is to produce an oral history of the descendants of the community who live in or near Lambert Lands. Lambert Lands became the home of newly emancipated people from Bedford County, Virginia in 1843. After establishing their settlement, this group obtained a deed, built a church, and developed the oldest Emancipation celebration, which continues today. They also were a stopping point for those escaping slavery in the South.  Since its creation, the legacy of Lambert Lands has continued despite threats of violence from the Klu Klux Klan, growing poverty in Appalachia, and numerous drug epidemics.  To fully comprehend the history of this community, Holt will also research and interview distant relatives who hold knowledge of the community’s origins in Bedford County, Virginia. For preservation, the results of these interviews will be donated to a library or archive housed at an academic institution or museum, particularly one that is focused on Southern and/or Appalachian Black history.


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Executive Director’s Column

By Kristine McCusker
June 2020

             Greetings from the Executive Office as we all continue to social distance and work from home. Middle Tennessee State University has reopened a bit, but with the high rates of covid in Rutherford County, we decided we would wait until the numbers fell before reconvening in our campus office. If you try to reach us, it’s still best to email us at at least until August.

By now, you have read President Allison Tracy-Taylor’s column informing you of the switch from a face-to-face conference to an all-virtual one. This was a necessary step, given the coronavirus uncertainties and our unwillingness to put our membership in unsafe situations.          Thankfully, we have the good advice from the American Council of Learned Societies and the experience of other professional organizations to guide us in our negotiations with our conference hotel in Baltimore. That expertise guided our successful renegotiation of the contract with no financial penalties. We are grateful to our peer institutions for their good advice throughout these difficult months.

Thanks to Louis Kyriakoudes, OHA’s co-executive director, we have also been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for more than $43,000. This has been Louis’ covid-quarantine project: to see what money the federal CARES and other legislative acts might have to help us weather the economic downturn associated with the virus. The NEH money will pay for some employment costs as well as assist us in putting on the virtual conference.

Finally, we are grateful to Vice President Dan Kerr, Program Co-Chairs Kelly Navies and Shana Farrell and Local Arrangements Co-Chairs Catherine Mayfield and Linda Shopes for their hard work on submitting a $10,000 grant to the Maryland Humanities Council. While they were not successful (covid was the culprit here), we’re grateful for their efforts in writing this grant.


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President’s Letter

June 25, 2020

Greetings, all.  I’m writing to give you a brief but important update on our 2020 Annual Meeting.

For the safety and well-being of presenters and attendees, we’ve decided to forego our traditional in-person conference this fall and are shifting to a virtual format. Registration will be delayed a bit, but please know we’re working diligently to open it. Sessions will be held primarily on Zoom. The program schedule is still being developed, and the Program Committee will provide presenters and attendees information and instructions on how to participate in virtual sessions.

We still plan to hold our keynote address, plenaries, pre-conference workshops, business meeting and networking events, as well as provide access to virtual tours. As information on these events and how to participate virtually becomes available, I will let the membership know.       Finally, in accordance with Maryland social-distancing orders, we also plan to offer regionally oriented in-person programming in Baltimore in October. Expect more information on these events soon.

We are working with the Hyatt Regency Hotel to rebook our meeting there for 2023, and we look forward to experiencing the city of Baltimore then.

I’m also happy to announce the OHA has been awarded a CARES Act Grant of $43,460 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant will support staff salaries and allow us to host a curated collection of sessions and events from the 2020 Annual Meeting on our website.

There are more updates and information to come, and I thank you for your patience as we work to shift the meeting to a virtual one. This is uncharted territory for us, but I’m confident the 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting will be engaging and enriching.

Beyond this, I hope you all are staying safe and sane.


Allison K. Tracy-Taylor
OHA President

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